September 29, 2006

I am so tired. But there's still energy for Cal at OSU

A harder week at work I have not had in probably 15 years. I'm exhausted.

But I think the Bears will win up in Corvallis this weekend. Oregon State has good defensive stats, especially in the secondary. Only one touchdown allowed to five interceptions and only 5.9 yards per pass. They're also allowing only 3.6 yards per rush and 115 yards per game on the ground. They allow opponents only 12 first downs a game (Cal allows 19.5), and they have 11 sacks in 3 games. They've also held opponents to an astounding 5 third-down conversions in 33 attempts (15.2%).

Their worry on defense, though, is in the red zone. Oregon State has not yet stopped an opponent from scoring in the red zone, giving up five TDs on their opponents' five opportunities. USC and UCLA are the only teams to allow fewer red zone appearances... that's one reason they're #1 and #2 in the conference in scoring defense.

But the Beavers will face an offense like they've not yet seen in the likes of Eastern Washington, Idaho, or even Boise State. Cal QB Nate Longshore has won two of the four Pac-10 Offensive Player Of The Week awards and is the league's top-rated passer in efficiency with 66% completion, 10 TDs, and 3 interceptions. DeSean Jackson has six receiving touchdowns in four games and is the league's top receiver in yards per catch at 18.5. Then there's Marshawn Lynch, the league's second-leading rusher at 112.2 yards per game. He has three touchdowns and leads the league's top rushers at 7.2 yards per carry. Cal's offense has faced Tennessee on the road and Minnesota and Arizona State at home--all of them supposedly tough defenses. Cal's scoring has gone up game over game, and they've scored 42 or more in their past three contests. Will the Beavers' stats hold up when they face this kind of offense?

On offense, the Beavers do not look so dominant. They take care of the ball and score well (36 points per game), but they're middle of the Pac in most statistical categories on offense. While the Beaver defense makes plenty of appearances at the top of the statistical tables, you have to go pretty far down the chart to fine the OSU offense. In fact, I can't find a single category worthy of note.

Cal's defense is not so hot, statistically, however. They're allowing 4.3 yards per rush and 165 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, they're last in pass defense with 223.5 yards per game. Daymeion Hughes has five interceptions in his last three games, but Cal is #9 in the conference at 7.8 yards per pass given up, and they've allowed a league-worst 8 passing touchdowns to go with their league-best 8 interceptions. Sort of a big-play defense on every down, you'd guess, one way or the other.

The only other stat to note is that this game pits the only two Pac-10 teams that have scored on punt returns. The Bears did it last week against ASU, and Oregon State is the only team to have done it twice in this young season. Plus, they sport an eye-popping 19.3 yard average on their punt returns. Special teams could be a big factor in this game if it's a close game.

For me, this game hinges on two things:
First, is the Beaver secondary as good as their stats? We saw last week that ASU's high-powered offense built their hot stats against weak competition. But sometimes good stats are good stats, no matter who the competition is. Can the Beavers shut down one of the best offenses in the league, if not the country? Or are the Bears balanced enough to score even if OSU takes away the pass?

Second, will the atmosphere bring down the Bears? Cal is third in the Pac-10 with an average home attendance of 58,000. The crowd is pretty enthusiastic at Memorial, too. But get into Corvallis and they'll be lucky to play in front of 40,000. Tedford's teams tend to play better in front of big crowds, TV audiences, loud pressure (Tennessee is the exception). Ironically, the best thing for the Beavers could be a half-empty stadium with no noise at all. The Bears would have a hard time gearing up for that environment.

All in all, though, I come back to this: OSU's schedule so far. Destroyed Eastern Washington at home, 56-17. Got creamed at Boise State, 42-14. Demolished Idaho at home, 38-0. They can mop up the patsies, but can they play a good team like Cal close?

I predict Cal would win this matchup 9 out of 10 times, barring crazy injuries. The Beavers just don't have enough of an offense to compete with Cal's offense, even if the defense is pretty strong.

Cal's more difficult schedule is an advantage, though Longshore still has never won a game on the road.

I'm betting on a relatively mundane game. No crazy turnover frenzies or kicks returned for scores. A lot of running on both sides, a lot of clock management and balanced offense. I think the Bears will build a steady lead, up 21-10 at halftime and 35-23 at the final gun.

Go Bears!

September 26, 2006

Unskilled at writing, but unaware of it

Miss Snark keeps saying, "Good writing trumps all," when she's referring to the process of getting published (or rejected, the less amusing alternative). Many of her readers ask, "What about 'write well' do people not get?"

I think it's that people who do not write well are unaware of their lack of skill. That is, they think they do write well; therefore, they think it must be something else—discrimination, bad luck, aliens, George Bush, etc.—causing their stories to get rejected time and again. There is not a human on the planet who has avoided this type of trap their entire lives. Maybe not in writing but in other areas. The guy who thinks his "special move" will please every woman concludes that the woman who isn't satisfied is a cold fish. The rookie soccer player who thinks he's hot stuf quits the team when he's not elected MVP. The amateur chef who loves to experiment doesn't realize he's making all his dinner guests struggle not to barf at the table. The "excellent" and opinionated mother who thinks she's got all the answers will later find herself on Nanny 911 with two little monsters controlling her life.

If I remember my 9th grade trig, the contrapositive should be true: If you are aware of your lack of skill, then you should be reasonably competent. It seems to hold true in my limited experience: Those people who are most humble about their need to improve also appear to be the ones who already have decent skills but who are most likely to improve with teaching and critique.

There are, of course, the extremes that fall outside this norm: The truly great know they're exceptional, and the truly awful know they're tragically abysmal. I am hopeful that I fall into the category of "most likely to improve." I take confidence from the fact that I've placed two stories in my first eight months of serious writing, and I am proud of the fact that my writers group helped improve both pieces. I think that means that I can learn and improve.

I do think my first novel is good enough to sell--I just have to read the critiques from the PNWA contest to believe that--but I know in the future I'll do better because I know I'm not quite "there" yet.

September 23, 2006

Arizona State visits Bear Territory

While I haven't done a full analysis, and while I'm still stinging from how atrociously wrong I got the Tennessee game, here goes...

This game will come down to three things:

  1. Can Cal's injury-plagued offensive line hold up against a D line that leads the nation in sacks with 18 and has not allowed a rushing TD in three games?
  2. Can the Bear pass defense, 9th in the Pac-10 statistically, hold up against the #2 pass offense in the Pac-10?
  3. How much weight do you put on ASU's weak schedule and Cal's difficult schedule when looking at the stats?
ASU and Cal are ranked pretty closely by most services and polls. 3-0 ASU is #20/#18 in the AP & Coaches polls, while Cal is #22/#20. Sagarin puts Cal #21 and ASU #24, predicting a 5-point Cal win when you consider home field advantage. The betting public seems to like Cal better, with the line having gone from Cal -7 to Cal -9 in one case.

But looking at the stats doesn't really bear that optimism out. I think this game is much more even, and the stats would give ASU the slight edge, I think. (But again, how much weight do you put on the strength of schedule after only three games?)

Some quick hits (all Pac-10 rankings, not national):
  • ASU brings the #2 pass offense against the #9 pass defense
  • ASU's rushing offense is slightly better than Cal's, averaging the same yards per carry (4.8), one more rush yard per game (162), and gaining two more touchdowns than Cal (6 vs 4).
  • ASU's pass offense is for real, leading the league in TDs (9) and yards per pass (9.3). They also have a good 63.7% completion rate. (Carpenter has thrown 4 interceptions, however.)
  • ASU allows a measly 12.7 points per game, #2 behind USC. Cal allows 22.7 points per game.
  • ASU's rushing defense has been outstanding, allowing just 104 yards per game, 2.6 yards per carry (best in the conference), and no touchdowns. Cal's rush defense gives up 3.9 yards per carry and 140 yards per game, but they have held opponents to just 2 rushing TDs.
  • ASU's pass defense is mediocre except for 5 interceptions in 3 games while allowing just 4 passing touchdowns. They do allow 7.5 yards per pass, 3rd worst in the league. Cal, however, allows 9.2 yards per pass, far and away the worst in the Pac-10. In addition, Cal has given up 6 passing TDs but gained 4 interceptions, and they're giving up nearly 240 yards passing a game.
  • Overall, Cal's defense is 2nd worst in the league, allowing 6.2 yards per play and nearly 380 yards a game. They've given up 8 TDs, 3rd worst in the league. ASU, meanwhile gives up just 4.4 yards per play (2nd best) and has given up just 4 offensive TDs (3rd best).
Nothing else really jumps out at you except for 18 sacks and the fact that ASU has outscored opponents 49-7 in the second half this year.

Are some of these stats starting to sound familiar? I think the ASU defense sounds a lot like Cal's dominating defense of the year we got screwed out of the Rose Bowl. Low point totals. Low yards per rush allowed. Dominant in the second half of games.

On the other side, ASU has as strong a passing attack as Cal has seen. The young DBs must improve, or Cal must get huge pass pressure, if the Bears are to keep the devils from getting to the end zone frequently.

Cal fans no doubt remember that Dirk Koetter's teams are 0-10 in the state of California, and ASU are 0-3 in their last three games against Cal. But the Bears did not see ASU last year, and the Sun Devils have been improving since they got thumped 27-0 the last time the two teams met. The Devils have been to two straight bowl games (though they had to rally to beat Arizona to end last year at 6-5).

Finally, do not count on any emotional wreckage from the whole Sam Keller affair. ASU has been performing well since then. The risk for the Devils is if Carpenter gets injured; their only backup is a redshirt freshman who's never played.

So... predicting this game comes down to a few philosophical questions:
  1. How much weight do you put on ASU's weak schedule and Cal's strong schedule when analyzing the stats?
  2. Do you believe the stats reflect the team at this point in the season?
  3. Do you believe in home field advantage?
Personally, I think that after three games the stats start to show the overall character of the team. There will be some movement, but generally Arizona, Washington, and Stanford will still be at the bottom at the end of the season, and USC, Oregon, ASU, and Cal will be at the top (offensively, at least). Cal's pass defense has been surprisingly atrocious (thanks to the injury to Tim Mixon), and the run defense has not been as good as expected. Will that continue, or will the Bears climb up the rankings statistically? (I believe the latter.)

Finally, there's the wildcard. Last time the teams met, the Sun Devils handed the ball over five times. That's not likely to happen this week, though we'll see if either team suffers fumbleitis or pick syndrome.

This is Cal's first true test. Was the Tennessee game an aberration or a predictor of how the Bears will fare against very good teams? Cal still has a lot to prove, and they can go a long way towards that with a solid victory today. But ASU also has a lot to prove, facing their first good opponent this year. It's a big test for them, too, and they'll be ready to fight hard.

In the end, I believe that Cal is still the superior team, and that the stats are lying just a little bit. This will be a close game, but I think the Bears will hang on something like 30-28.

Go Bears!

September 22, 2006

unavoidably delayed

stories still unread
unavoidably delayed
katrina damage

I wish the mainstream media would not forget important stories like the devastation caused by last year's hurricanes. I'm not talking about the finger-pointing "blame game" and the incompetence displayed by federal, state, and local authorities. I'm talking about the tragedy of families still living in FEMA trailers or much worse. The tragedy of a rebuilding process that will take years just to get to third-world status in some areas.

I may have the opportunity to attend a meeting in New Orleans in January, and an extra day would be added for the attendees to get involved in a volunteer project in some of the hardest hit areas. A year after the hurricanes swept through, I am told that the devastation is still mind-blowing. I hope I do get the chance to attend that meeting so I can see and help firsthand.

September 18, 2006

I was right the first time

While some people I know have (incorrectly) self-diagnosed many fatal or near-fatal diseases, my self-diagnosis was correct. I finally saw an orthopedic surgeon last week, and he did the x-ray thing and the poking my foot thing and the wiggling my foot thing. He proclaimed nothing worse than plantar fasciitis, which was both a relief and a frustration.

So now I can forget about the possibility of broken bones or surgery. I just have to stumble through the pain for another month or two (or three or four if I get back out on the soccer field in the meantime).

I can not wait to get back to writing and working out. Work has finally dropped to a regular pace, at least for the moment, so I hope to get back onto track with regular life. Wish me luck.

September 12, 2006

A poem that made it to the "final cuts" at one litmag

Blessed Coffee
by Peter Dudley

In the beginning, there was emptiness.
Not one single drop.
While the priest turned
Water into wine and labored to
Convert the masses in his echoing
Stone and concrete hall,
I percolated, converting water into

Such a church should have
A bigger kitchen and
A sink that works.

Black mystery of the divine
Heat of his love
Steam ascending toward Heaven
Glass window into God

The ladies will arrive soon, ignoring
Doughnuts and fussing over brooches.
They will sip from their
Styrofoam fonts,
God’s love burning on their lips and
In their throats.

If Father Brian asks,
I don’t know what happened
To the rest of his
Holy water.

But I do know the number of a good plumber.

September 11, 2006

The First Line Has Arrived!

I can't believe the fall issue of The First Line is already out. Very cool to see my fiction in print. I have not had a chance to read the rest of it, but the intro by the editors makes it sound like interesting reading. Git yerself a copy.

September 10, 2006

Thereby Hangs A Tale has arrived!

My first sold story in print has arrived in the mail. It's a lovely job they've done with the design and photos, and it was a great feeling when Maria read the story again last night and laughed in all the right places and then said, "This is really good."

To buy copies, go over to Thereby Hangs A Tale.

And to subscribe to The First Line in time to get the fall issue containing my second sold story, head over to The First Line.

I love that I've sold two stories. I've got five other stories in review right now at small litmags, but no ETAs on when they'll render judgment.

I hate that I haven't been able to write anything or work on any stories in over a month. But that's the nature of my day job... From June to October, I'm at full sprint, and the past three weeks have seen me burning the midnight bandwidth at least three or four nights a week... on work, not writing. But it pays the bills, right? I have been able to do a little plotting and character development for my third novel, which I'll draft during NaNoWriMo in November, when the pace of my job settles down to a comfortable stroll. I just hope I don't get sick of the story by the time I finally get to write it. The effort scares me a little because I'm going to try writing in a voice from a POV I've never tried before. If it works, I think it'll be really good. If it doesn't, well... it'll be a learning experience, I guess.

September 8, 2006

2,666 and counting

A high school classmate of mine is shipping off to Iraq today. I have not seen him or kept in touch with him since graduation 21 years ago. A good friend's husband is currently serving in Afghanistan.

2,666 and counting.

When will it end?

September 3, 2006

guess I got THAT one wrong

Wow. 35-18. I was pretty close on the differential... but I picked the wrong team to win.

How lucky was I that I was nowhere near a TV on Saturday? Instead, I was enjoying a sunny day at Lake Sonoma with a whole bunch of friends, my family, and a few beers. Unfortunately, I also had my AM radio, so Starkey spent a little time with us, too. I turned the game off at halftime, and when I turned it back on, what I heard was this: "The kickoff is again very deep (oh, good, I thought, I'm tuning in just in time for the second half comeback), so the Bears will again start at their twenty (uh-oh... shouldn't the Bears kick off to start the second half?) down twenty-eight to nothing." Click. Off went the radio. I turned it on twice more just to catch score updates.

All I have to say is this: Unlike Stanford, Cal is undefeated in the Pac-10 this year!